Sunday, 13 December 2015

Incremental progress, not transformation, in Paris climate deal

The entranceway to COP21: The Paris climate conference.
After years of anticipation, policymakers have agreed a new global deal to tackle climate change. The fact that such a sentence can be written without caveats demonstrates real, tangible, progress. But make no mistake, the Paris deal does not on its own equate to transformative change.

Here are a few reflections on what the Paris deal means for the future of climate policy.

It moves the conversation

People can now honestly say that there is  a 'global climate deal'. That means that instead of policymakers fretting about getting one, they can now focus on delivering actual emissions reductions, which is the whole point of the exercise, really.

That may sound glib, but it's an important step (albeit incredibly belated). Perhaps the most enlightening comment I heard during my brief visit to the negotiations was that the deal has the potential to 'normalise' the issue of climate change.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Who should you vote for in the UK general election if you care about climate change?

Well, the Green party obviously, right?

Not necessarily. While the Greens may score the best on environmental issues including climate change, the UK's weird electoral system makes things that much more complicated.

There are two main issues you need to consider alongside what the parties are promising on climate change when choosing who to vote for: where you live, and what you want your vote to do.

Once you factor these into your considerations, it’s a much murkier picture.

First past the post

I'll go through the voting permutations in a minute. But it's important to first recap the ground rules of the UK's very particular system. So, as briefly as possible, let's go back to school.

The UK's electoral system is known as first past the post. That means the party with the most seats once the votes have been counted is invited (by the Queen; yes, really) to become the government.

To determine the biggest party, the country is separated into constituencies or 'seats', each with one MP. In the UK, you don't vote for the prime minister, you vote for an MP, knowing their party leader will become prime minister if they win the most seats.The candidate with the most votes in any seat, even if it’s less than 50% of the vote, becomes an MP.*

Saturday, 11 April 2015

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's social science problem

... a challenge to the organisation's new chair.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has a problem with social science.

It’s not that it doesn’t appreciate the social sciences; it says it does. It’s not that it doesn’t want to include social science in its reports; its fifth assessment report does just that. It’s that - despite its best intentions - it just doesn’t really understand social science's role in climate change research.

This is more than an academic problem. As David Victor (a political scientist) argues in Nature, by shirking the most controversial and most interesting social science, the IPCC risks “becoming irrelevant”.

The IPCC is due to appoint a new chair in October. It will need someone who not only appreciates social science research, but can help it overcome the the traditional science/social science dichotomy that continues to be played out across the pages of its reports.

If it fails to do so, the continuation of its vital work could be at risk.

Social science in the IPCC

The IPCC’s fifth assessment report (AR5), released over 2013 and 2014, shows it is willing to engage and publish some, select, social science research. But the social sciences are still woefully under-represented.

Here’s a breakdown of the disciplines of the coordinating lead authors of the IPCC’s working group 2 (which deals with the impacts of climate change) and working group 3 (which looks at climate change policy):

Data collated by David Victor and Linda Wong from the University of California, San Diego. Adapted by me. Reproduced with permission. Full spreadsheet available here.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Issues that the Green party should be championing in the election that aren’t the environment

Guest post by Well Hung Parliament's William Hayward:

Ah the Greens. “I’d love to see the Greens get in” the statement uttered by every left of centre voter right before they don't vote for them. So how can the Greens ever hope to get into power when even people who want them to be elected won't vote for them? Well one great solution would be to shout about a number of key policies they have which are not directly linked to the environment. That way you don't just appeal to eco-warriors and people living close to sea level. Here are four policies that the Greens could quite literally fight an election on without necessarily appealing to their key demographic.

The EU referendum

So it wouldn't be outrageous to say that the further right on the political spectrum you are the more likely you are to be against the EU and therefore in favour of a referendum you think would lead to an exit. You would therefore think that a political party broadly positioned to the left of all of the other mainstream parties would be against a referendum.

The Greens however are in favour of a referendum in order to use it as a mechanism to reestablish the direction and make up of the EU. They want to move it away from endless focus on free trade and promote “genuine cooperation” and enhance democracy (you can find it in full here).

Saturday, 21 March 2015

The Guardian’s self-defeating climate campaign

The Guardian has started a campaign. If you’re at all interested in climate change, you’ve probably seen it. It’s called ‘keep it in the ground’, and calls on the world’s fossil fuel companies to leave about 80 per cent of their known reserves unburned.

This picture pretty much sums up the idea:

To make this happen, the Guardian is encouraging businesses, charities, trust funds, and anyone with skin in the game to ‘divest’ from fossil fuels. It’s doing this, in the words of its editor in chief, Alan Rusbridger, “in the firm belief that it will force the issue now into the boardrooms and inboxes of people who have billions of dollars at their disposal.” For the Guardian, this “simple idea” is the key to meaningful action on climate change.

I’m not convinced.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

I didn’t go to the climate march. Does it matter?

There was yet another climate march in London last Saturday. Somewhere between 5,000 and 20,000 people went along. I wasn’t one of them.

That evening, I met a friend who had attended. They, not unreasonably, given my well-publicised interests, asked why I had chosen to be absent. I gave many answers, none of them good. Among the reasons I gave were:

  • I’d been planning a particular countryside walk for months and Saturday’s weather made it almost criminal not to go;
  • I was a bit hungover and the idea of getting the tube into central London felt like a mountain I simply could not climb;
  • I wasn’t sure my presence would really make a difference, anyway.

Now, there are strong qualitative reasons why the first two explanations are better classed as ‘excuses’. If I care about this issue - and I do - they don’t really cut it, on any level.

But the third - that my presence was never going to tip the scales in favour of climate action -  sounds plausible. At the very least I can attach some numbers to it. And I like attaching numbers to things. It helps cover my personality defects.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

What is the point of the UK's cross-party pledge to tackle climate change?

Panic not, whoever wins the election come May, tackling climate change is on their to-do list. That was the message from the UK’s main party leaders this Saturday, as Cameron, Clegg and Miliband all put their scrawl to a cross-party pledge declaring climate change was “one of the most serious threats facing the world today”.

You’d be forgiven for being underwhelmed by the news.

Credit: Green Alliance

It’s not the first time all three parties have supported strong climate action. That was in 2008, when all but five MPs voted for the rather more significant Climate Change Act.

It’s also not the first time the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour have pledged to tackle the problem. All three parties promised to do something about it in the run up to the 2010 election.

And it’s definitely not the first time these three politicians have called climate change a threat. Cameron said so in his first speech as Conservative party leader in 2006, Clegg said so in his career-making appearance in 2010’s leaders’ TV debates, and Miliband said so many times as the UK’s Energy and Climate Change secretary.

So what is the point of the pledge?